Competency hearing set for suspect in Smart case

Competency hearing set for suspect in Smart case

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal judge on Monday set aside 10 days for a competency hearing for the man charged with the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart.

Federal prosecutors sought the hearing in June and implied that two doctors who evaluated Brian David Mitchell reached different conclusions about his ability to participate in his defense.

"It's good to see it moving forward," Smart's father, Ed Smart said after the scheduling hearing.

Court documents show prosecutors plan to call about 39 witnesses, including family, friends, former church leaders and staff at the Utah State Hospital, where Mitchell has been incarcerated for most of the past six years.

The defense maintains Mitchell, 55, a one-time itinerant street preacher, is incompetent to stand trial, a conclusion twice reached in state courts. Last year, a state judge declined to order forced medication for Mitchell, saying it was unlikely to restore his competency.

Doctors have diagnosed Mitchell with a rare delusional disorder. Since his arrest in 2003, he has frequently disrupted court proceedings by singing hymns and once yelled at a judge to "repent."

The competency hearing was scheduled to begin Nov. 30 and continue through Dec. 11 in U.S. District Court before Judge Dale Kimball.

Kimball also set aside Sept. 25 as a date to hear from any witnesses unable to appear during the scheduled competency hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lambert said.

In court papers filed last week, Mitchell's defense attorney, Robert Steele, asked a judge to shorten the witness list in part because most people listed were not qualified to provide an assessment of competency. In addition, the information could potentially date back to Mitchell's childhood and have little relevance to his current mental state, Steele wrote.

"The issue before the court is Mr. Mitchell's present competency to stand trial," Steele wrote. "Five experts have already weighed in on this question and are prepared to testify as to their findings."

On Monday, Steele also sought to exclude the testimony of New York forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, who was hired by prosecutors to evaluate Mitchell in April.

Mitchell was indicted in March 2008 on charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.

Smart was 14 when she was taken at knifepoint from the bedroom of her Salt Lake City home on June 6, 2002. She was found in March 2003 walking the streets of a Salt Lake City suburb with Mitchell and his now-estranged wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee.

Barzee is also facing state and federal charges and has been deemed incompetent.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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